Have you ever wondered how to get in the door with venture capitalists, or what the heck you're supposed to say once you get there? Do you agonize over how much of your company you should give up for the almighty dollar?

At a recent meeting of the San Diego Venture Group, a panel of VCs and entrepreneurs discussed those and other topics that keep CEOs up at night.

"We look at 1,000-ish deals a year, and our hit rate is on the order of one in 1,000," joked Joel Martin, partner with Forward Ventures. While that may be an exaggeration, the panel agreed it is hard to turn a pitch into a meeting, and one of the best ways to do that is by leveraging your contacts.

"We did 12 deals last year, and eight came from what we call the Sierra network," said Mark Fernandes, managing director with Sierra Ventures. Referral networks may include lawyers, accountants, consultants, bankers, other investors or even social contacts. Martin recommended seeking referrals from entrepreneurs who have made that firm money in the past.

Another tip for getting in the door is to research the partners at each firm and approach the one whose interests best align with your company. "Your chance of getting the deal done is probably highly dependent on the partner you approach," Martin said.

Before going to any meeting, it's important to have realistic expectations. For example, Scott Salka, CEO of Ambit Biosciences Corp., said VCs are unlikely to sign a confidential disclosure agreement when discussing early-stage deals. "We're working on a Series D financing, and it's the first time we've had VCs sign a CDA," he said.

Once you're in, the panel agreed that the best way to win investors over is with a good elevator pitch. If you can't say what you do in 30 seconds, "no one can help you," Fernandes said. Martin agreed, adding that he continues to be "stunned" by the fact that so many pitches "get lost in the minutiae of their technology" and never address the "So what?"

Once you get to your corporate presentation, the panel advised skipping the PowerPoint bells and whistles and focusing on the market. Everyone knows diabetes is a large market that is growing rapidly because of the aging population, Martin said, so you have to focus on what specific problem you're going to solve.

After you walk away, how do the partners decide whether to invest? All jokes about dartboards, coin tosses and Ouija boards aside, if one partner likes a company, that partner will bring the executives back in for a presentation and Q&A with the team, Fernandes said. Right after the presentation, the partners meet and make a decision on whether to invest.

If the firm doesn't invest, don't give up hope. "You have to kiss a lot of frogs," Salka said, noting that Ambit met with about 90 VCs before closing its Series A. The process can take a year and cost several hundred thousand dollars, he added.

And just because a VC doesn't fund you the first time around doesn't mean it won't come around eventually. Martin said Forward Ventures writes down the milestones companies project during their pitches, and if they come back a year later and actually achieved those milestones, it gives them "enormous credibility."

But let's say the VC does decide to invest in your company - what then? Most firms will conduct the majority of their due diligence before going to term sheets, with the exception being expensive investigations into intellectual property claims. Martin noted that there "is a trend in our business to send out premature term sheets and string the company along," but he called the practice "bad business."

And what will those term sheets ask you to give up? That will depend on the stage of the technology, the experience of the entrepreneur, the size of the team and other factors, but Fernandes said a general guideline for a "raw start-up" is 50 percent. Martin said most VC syndicates will want control, or 51 percent ownership.

Salka said Ambit has raised $56 million to date and will probably raise another $50 million before going public. "As a CEO, if I can hold on to 5 percent of the company after several rounds of financing, I'm doing a great job," he said. But he emphasized that the trade-off is worth it. "If you [don't have the money to] move quickly, you'll end up owning a whole lot of nothing," he said.

Martin advised entrepreneurs to focus on the value of the stock rather than the percent of ownership. "We want you to be incentivized. . . . We want our entrepreneurs to make a lot of money," he said. "Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish."